Introduction to Oshogatsu: The Japanese New Year Celebration

Oshogatsu, or the Japanese New Year celebration, is one of the most important and widely celebrated holidays in Japan. It marks the beginning of a new year and is a time for reflection, gratitude, and setting intentions for the year ahead. Oshogatsu has a rich history and cultural significance that sets it apart from Western New Year’s celebrations.

The origins of Oshogatsu can be traced back to ancient Chinese traditions that were brought to Japan over a thousand years ago. In Japan, Oshogatsu is celebrated from January 1st to January 3rd, although preparations and festivities often begin in late December. It is a time for families to come together, visit shrines, and enjoy special meals.

In comparison to Western New Year’s celebrations, which often involve parties and fireworks at midnight on December 31st, Oshogatsu is a more subdued and traditional affair. It focuses on family, reflection, and the renewal of spirit. While Western celebrations tend to be centered around one night of revelry, Oshogatsu is a multi-day event that encompasses various customs and traditions.

Understanding the Significance of Osechi Ryori: Traditional New Year’s Food

One of the most important aspects of Oshogatsu is the food, particularly Osechi Ryori. Osechi Ryori is a traditional New Year’s meal that consists of a variety of dishes with symbolic meanings. Each dish is carefully prepared and arranged in special lacquer boxes called jubako.

Osechi Ryori is not only delicious but also carries deep cultural significance. The dishes are meant to be enjoyed over several days without the need for cooking, as it was traditionally believed that cooking during the first few days of the year would bring bad luck. By preparing and eating Osechi Ryori in advance, families can relax and spend time together without the burden of cooking.

Some popular dishes in Osechi Ryori include kuromame (sweet black soybeans), which symbolize good health and a long life; kazunoko (herring roe), which represents fertility and abundance; and datemaki (sweet rolled omelet), which signifies knowledge and learning. Each dish has its own unique symbolism and adds to the overall meaning and significance of the New Year’s meal.

How to Prepare for Oshogatsu: Cleaning and Decorating Your Home

In preparation for Oshogatsu, it is customary to thoroughly clean and declutter the home. This tradition, known as “osoji,” is believed to remove any impurities or bad luck from the previous year and create a fresh start for the new year. It is a time for deep cleaning, organizing, and getting rid of any unnecessary items.

Cleaning the home before Oshogatsu is not just about physical cleanliness, but also about creating a sense of renewal and purification. It is a way to create a clean and harmonious environment for the new year. Many families also take this opportunity to clean their personal belongings, such as clothes and accessories, to ensure a fresh start.

In addition to cleaning, decorating the home is an important part of Oshogatsu preparations. Traditional decorations such as kadomatsu (bamboo and pine arrangements), shimekazari (sacred rope decorations), and kagami mochi (stacked rice cakes) are commonly displayed in homes during this time. These decorations symbolize good luck, prosperity, and protection from evil spirits.

Hatsumode: The First Shrine Visit of the Year

Hatsumode is another important tradition during Oshogatsu. It refers to the first shrine visit of the year and is believed to bring good luck and blessings for the coming year. Many people visit their local shrine or a famous shrine to pray for health, happiness, and success.

During Hatsumode, it is customary to make an offering at the shrine, usually in the form of a monetary donation. After making the offering, people often clap their hands and bow to show respect and gratitude. They may also purchase omamori (amulets) or ema (wooden plaques) with wishes written on them.

Visiting a shrine during Oshogatsu is a special experience that allows individuals to connect with their spirituality and seek guidance for the year ahead. It is a time for reflection, gratitude, and setting intentions. Many people also take this opportunity to cleanse themselves by washing their hands and mouth at the shrine’s purification fountain.

The Joy of Otoshidama: Giving and Receiving New Year’s Money

One of the most exciting customs during Oshogatsu is the tradition of otoshidama, which involves giving and receiving New Year’s money. Otoshidama is typically given to children by their parents, relatives, or family friends as a symbol of good luck and prosperity for the new year.

The money is usually presented in small envelopes called “pochibukuro” and is given with well wishes for the recipient’s health and happiness. It is customary for children to receive otoshidama until they reach adulthood, at which point they may start giving otoshidama to younger family members.

Receiving otoshidama is a joyful experience for children, as they eagerly anticipate the gifts they will receive. It also teaches them about the value of money and the importance of gratitude. Many children save their otoshidama money or use it to buy special treats or toys.

The Art of Kagami Mochi: A Symbolic New Year’s Decoration

Kagami Mochi is a traditional New Year’s decoration that consists of two round rice cakes stacked on top of each other, with a small citrus fruit called a “daidai” placed on top. The rice cakes are meant to represent the mirror of the gods, while the daidai symbolizes longevity and good fortune.

Kagami Mochi is typically displayed in the home during Oshogatsu as a symbol of good luck and prosperity for the new year. It is often placed on a special stand or in a decorative arrangement. Some families also offer Kagami Mochi to the gods at their home shrine or at a local shrine.

Making and displaying Kagami Mochi is considered an art form in Japan. The rice cakes must be carefully shaped and dried to achieve the desired texture and appearance. It is also important to choose fresh daidai fruits that are in season and have a vibrant color.

The Tradition of Toshikoshi Soba: Eating Buckwheat Noodles on New Year’s Eve

Toshikoshi Soba is a traditional dish eaten on New Year’s Eve in Japan. It consists of buckwheat noodles served in a hot broth with various toppings such as green onions, tempura, and kamaboko (fish cake). Toshikoshi Soba is believed to bring good luck and longevity for the coming year.

The tradition of eating Toshikoshi Soba on New Year’s Eve dates back to the Edo period in Japan. It is said that the long, thin noodles symbolize longevity and the act of cutting them represents cutting away any misfortunes or obstacles from the previous year.

Preparing and enjoying Toshikoshi Soba is a special ritual for many families. The noodles are typically cooked just before midnight and eaten together as a family. It is customary to slurp the noodles loudly, as it is believed to bring good luck and ensure a long life.

Watching Kohaku Uta Gassen: Japan’s Famous New Year’s Eve Music Show

Kohaku Uta Gassen is a famous New Year’s Eve music show in Japan that has been broadcasted annually since 1951. It features popular Japanese singers and groups who compete in a friendly singing competition. The show is divided into two teams, the red team (female artists) and the white team (male artists).

Kohaku Uta Gassen is a highly anticipated event that brings families together to watch and enjoy the performances. It is a tradition for many households to gather around the television on New Year’s Eve and cheer for their favorite artists. The show often includes special collaborations, medleys, and surprise performances.

Watching Kohaku Uta Gassen is not just about the music, but also about the sense of unity and celebration it brings. It is a time for families to come together, relax, and enjoy each other’s company as they welcome the new year.

The Excitement of Shishimai: Lion Dance Performances During Oshogatsu

Shishimai, or lion dance, is a traditional performance that is often seen during Oshogatsu. It involves dancers dressed in lion costumes who perform intricate movements to the beat of drums and cymbals. Shishimai is believed to bring good luck and drive away evil spirits.

The lion dance is a vibrant and energetic performance that captivates audiences of all ages. The dancers mimic the movements of a lion, with one dancer controlling the head and another controlling the body. They perform acrobatic jumps, spins, and other impressive feats.

Shishimai performances can be seen at shrines, temples, and other public spaces during Oshogatsu. They are often accompanied by traditional music and are a highlight of the festivities. Many people believe that watching Shishimai brings good luck and prosperity for the new year.

Reflecting on the Past Year and Setting Intentions for the New Year: Japanese New Year’s Customs

One of the key aspects of Oshogatsu is reflection and goal-setting for the new year. Japanese New Year’s customs encourage individuals to take time to reflect on the past year, express gratitude, and set intentions for the year ahead.

One common custom is to write a “nengajo,” or New Year’s card, to friends, family, and colleagues. These cards often include a brief summary of the past year’s events and express well wishes for the coming year. Writing nengajo is a way to reflect on the past year’s accomplishments and challenges, as well as to strengthen relationships.

Another custom is to visit a shrine or temple to pray for health, happiness, and success in the new year. Many people also take this opportunity to make resolutions or set goals for themselves. These goals may be related to personal growth, career aspirations, or relationships.

Incorporating these customs into your own New Year’s celebrations can add depth and meaning to the holiday. Taking time to reflect on the past year and set intentions for the future can help create a sense of purpose and direction as you enter the new year.


Oshogatsu, the Japanese New Year celebration, is a time of reflection, gratitude, and renewal. It is a multi-day event filled with customs and traditions that have deep cultural significance. From cleaning and decorating the home to enjoying special meals and visiting shrines, each aspect of Oshogatsu carries its own symbolism and meaning.

By understanding and incorporating these traditions into your own New Year’s celebrations, you can add depth and meaning to the holiday season. Whether it’s preparing Osechi Ryori, making Kagami Mochi, or reflecting on the past year, each tradition offers an opportunity for personal growth and connection with loved ones.

So this year, why not try incorporating some Oshogatsu traditions into your own New Year’s celebrations? Take the time to reflect on the past year, set intentions for the future, and create a sense of renewal and gratitude. Embrace the spirit of Oshogatsu and welcome the new year with joy and optimism.